How to tell someone that their dog is over playing?

dogwalkI knew if I wrote enough blogs I would eventually come to the very difficult stuff in the dog park.  In my early years of professional dog walking I was not immune to taking on dogs that didn't respect other dogs enough. 

Mostly I would walk them on lead, but every now and then when you thought they have been good enough you are tempted to let them off the lead and have to watch them VERY closely.

And unfortunately not every owner is experienced or caring enough to know what is an acceptable level of play.

Sure when another dog is crying in pane or other people are voicing concern that view about when to separate dogs is easier, but sometimes its more subtle than that.

Judging how rough or fully active two dogs or more can play together can be one of the hardest skills and long term judgements people at dog parks will ever make.

That is because you need to take the emotion out of it, you need to stay calm and you need to do the best for the dogs.  I am not talking about molly coddling a dog, picking it up and making it more anxious than when it is being over played with, but I am talking about  bully dogs that should know better, that are well out of the puppy stage, taking serious advantage of another dogs smaller size or less aggressive ability to stand up for itself.

Some people with big ego's and big dogs will never see that their dogs are causing issues.  Some people with a nervous disposition and a more nervous dog that isn't social will see threats everywhere where there aren't any.

The thin blue line of the dog park is knowing how to keep the peace between the dogs and the people.  As a strong dog advocate, I believe the park should be for all dogs and all people.  But sometimes the dogs and owners have to earn a right to be there.  It is difficult because you don't have park dog police people with any real authority making 'right' judgement calls.

Fortunately a situation where dogs are legitimately at real risk is very rare in our Melbourne Australia dog parks.   However potential situations seem to occur just enough to keep us on our toes.  Its kind of like being calm, but not being too relaxed.   Its about not being too gun ho and ignoring when another's dog is very uncomfortable and on the verge of a fight or flight situation. 

We don't always get it right, but the more days we spend in the parks, the more focussed we are on all dogs having a good time, the greater the chance that our own dogs are going to listen to us as we gently correct their behaviour with voice or a subtle hand movement.

I hate that a few old school owners still think its OK to whack a dog hard on the noise or back as their 'discipline' thinking that this will stop the dog and earn them respect.  Wolves nor dog generally take being hit by a human as a sign of love or guidance. It rarely fosters a strong long term relationship where a dog will do something out of cooperation rather than fear.  And in a really bad situation where a dog might be about to get into a fight or run into an oncoming car - why should they trust and owner that they couldn't trust in a crisis before?

Professionally looking after dogs off lead can be very rewarding but also very hard with very varied weather conditions, dogs and random people in the park, not all who are trained that well.  It isn't the hardest job in the world, and its one of the lowest paid, but it is one that really requires a skill level that most people have no inkling about.  Consider that the next time you go to employ a 12 year old to take your dog on lead somewhere ...


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